The innovative B³ Project “Lab@Home”-Concept Angleichung refers to the aligning/adapting/harmonizing of Physical-Chemical concepts to the everyday experience of the students, through the addition of hands-on experiments, some of which taught entirely online, within the format of a lab course.
The idea is to adapt the scientific (abstract) concepts to something the students are already familiar with such as everyday experiences, phenomena, or objects by employing university-level experimental procedures and data analyses. A Physical-Chemistry lab course is modernized by adding, for each taught concept, extra problem-driven experiments that have an element of familiarity meant to ease and solidify students’ understanding. In addition, some of the add-ons are designed to be done entirely online. The student receives a box with safe equipment and materials and runs the experiment at their location while the instructor supervises online. This is meant to further bridge the understanding gap on one hand, and to serve as proof-of-concept for online teaching of labs on the other.
Hands-on experimentation as a teaching strategy can be traced all the way back to Aristotle, but more recently it has been evidenced as essential in David A. Kolb’s modern “Theory of Experiential Learning”, which can be defined as the process of learning through experience, or more clearly as “learning through reflection on doing” (Patrick, 2011). Experiential Learning implies learning through hands-on approaches that shift the focus from the teacher, imparting knowledge in front of the classroom, to the students that are engaged more interactively and ideally become motivated enough to continue their learning experience beyond the classroom environment. According to the model, concrete experience is at the core of the learning process.
Using brain scans, hands-on experiences have recently been shown to benefit students more than initially thought. In addition, a higher level of motivation has been measured in students who go through hands-on experiments in comparison to those who do not. Higher motivation is in turn based on a better grasp and understanding of the concepts being taught, in complete agreement with Kolb’s experiential theory.
A very efficient and modern way to further engage student interest and streamline the educational act is the so-called Authentic Learning. Authentic Learning is defined broadly and considered to be a spectrum of practices touching upon one or more characteristics such as real-world relevance, ill-defined problems, complex tasks, group work, reflection, cross-domain investigation, seamless integration within the rest of the teaching format, open outcomes (Reeves et al., 2002).
A key identifier of Authentic Learning is increasing the relevance of the taught concepts by contextualizing their importance to the students’ experiences through real-world connections. In addition, project-based inquiry-oriented approaches have been shown to be most effective. University students learning about physics through real-world connections “were able to recognize the topics better, internalize and understand effectively” (Yalçin et al., 2017), because they are more motivated when they see how the taught concepts relate to their own lives and experiences.
Doing an experiment online, at the student’s location with familiar objects and concepts, can be considered both and instance of Experiential Learning due to the practical nature of it and on of Authentic Learning due to the heavy contextualization. Whenever possible, the add-ons will be online.
Concept Angleichung can be defined as applying Authentic Learning to Experiential Learning, whereby the scientific concepts are taught not only through the classical lab-appropriate experiments, but also through extra experiments centered around, or performed with everyday phenomena or objects. This is meant to connect the lab to the familiar outside world and tangible experiences.
Although mundane objects like cosmetic products, 3D printed parts and aids and commonly experienced concepts are the focus of these extra experiments, to keep in line with the university-level difficulty and detail of investigation, professional equipment and procedures are being employed.
Using mundane materials to demonstrate scientific principles has been shown to reduce their perceived abstract nature (Monteiro, 2017) and increase understanding, in agreement with Authentic Learning.
Engagement post-course will be recommended and encouraged, in the form of suggestions that students themselves may make in their lab reports regarding possible future Concept Angleichung experiments relevant to the covered topics. As the course that is being modernized is a 2nd year course, students may even get to see their suggested experiments put to practice in the next year’s iteration.